After spending the first three-fourths of March on the road with only a lone home game in 8 games, the Canes will finish the 2015-16 season with 6 of their last 10 games at home including a trio of potential spring tailgating weekend games. First up is a match up against the Buffalo Sabres who the Canes lost to in overtime just 10 days ago.
The Canes enter after finishing a 5-game road trip with a 1-1-3 record that continued to make any kind of standings miracle more remote. It is important to note that if the team fails to push up the standings, it will not be because of it went 1-1-3 on a tough March road trip but because the hole that it dug in October and November just asked too much from the tough March schedule.
Here is what I will be watching for Tuesday night’s game and the ongoing Canes try out for the 2016-17 team:
1) Derek Ryan
The game sees round 2 of a trial for Derek Ryan who played 2 games at the NHL level immediately following the trade deadline. In those 2 games he scored a goal and showed flashes of the offensive ability and instincts that earned him his contract last summer. He also had a few issues sorting things out in terms of assignments and positioning in his own end defensively. The upside for Ryan is that the Canes do need to add more raw offense for next season and would love to find a player within the system for part of this. The challenge is that especially at the center position being sound defensively is a requirement. I advocated during preseason that the team should look at Ryan at right wing because he was playing well and generating offense, but the Canes were four deep at center at the time. It is uncertain whether he could make this transition, but I think it would be interesting to see him get a look at right wing on a line with scoring ability.
2) Noah Hanifin
On the whole, the 2015-16 season has seen Noah Hanifin progress. But it has been at much different rates for offense and defense. When I think about his game, I separate it into whether he is attacking or being attacked. When he is dictating play either with the puck on his stick or even defending as long as it is 1-on-1 and his assignment is clear, he has been incredibly good. His game as a puck carrier is ahead of where I would have hoped it would be. But his game defensively has been flat or worse of late with too many mistakes. The same goes for all of the young defensemen, but it would be especially good to see Noah Hanifin finish out the season strong.
3) Trevor Carrick and/or Ryan Murphy
It will not be until the morning skate or later that it is learned if Ryan Murphy will return from injury or if Trevor Carrick will still be playing his slot. Carrick has been the good version of quiet on the blue line through 2 games mostly avoiding mistakes at least of the glaring variety. Murphy and Carrick are both options to be the #7 defenseman next season if the Canes do not add a veteran depth player over the summer, so the remaining 10 games are important for both regardless of who is in the lineup.
4) The ongoing try out
Riley Nash continues to surge. Chris Terry had an important goal on Saturday and will look to build on that positive. Nathan Gerbe has found his higher gear, but can he also find a scoring burst to stake a claim to being more than energy for a fourth line. Michal Jordan, by my math anyway, is on the outside looking in for the 2016-17 team and has 10 games to make a statement.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena for only the second time in March.